Prior to its matchup against Penn State, no player currently on the Michigan women’s basketball team had ever won a game in the Big Ten Tournament. And although Thursday night’s contest in Indianapolis, Ind. started off relatively close, that all changed. The Wolverines (10-6 Big Ten, 22-8 overall) smacked the Nittany Lions (6-10, 16-5), 77-48.
“I thought our toughness really came through tonight,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
Michigan’s offense had some troubles early in the game. Freshman guard Deja Church turned the ball over with an errant pass on the Wolverines’ first possession. The team gave it away on the next attempt as well, due to a shot-clock violation.
About two minutes in, though, junior forward Hallie Thome came through for Michigan. The junior center showed off a spin move in the paint, scoring the basket and drawing a foul. She converted for the three-point play and helped the Wolverines get on the scoreboard first. Thome finished the night with a team-high 22 points.
The offense shaped up midway through the opening frame when senior guard Katelynn Flaherty — who finished the game with 21 points — drained a 3-pointer from the left wing. Michigan displayed good ball movement moments later. Church heaved a pass from the right wing, finding Nicole Munger in the left corner. The junior guard then drove straight at the basket, drawing multiple defenders in the process. This distraction left Thome wide open in the post, and after a smart pass from Munger, Thome scored an easy bucket. She also drew a foul and made the following free-throw.
Penn State struggled with its shooting early on. The Nittany Lions were 0-for-8 from beyond the arc by the end of the first quarter, and because of this, the Wolverines led 15-10.
“I thought that we really set the tone early on in the game,” Barnes Arico said, “and we really established ourselves.”
At the start of the second stanza, Michigan looked a bit out of sync. The Wolverines committed three turnovers within the first three minutes of the quarter. To make matters worse, senior forward Jillian Dunston picked up her third foul.
Success from the 3-point line aided Michigan, though. The Wolverines notched four triples in the period — including two in a row — to maintain the upper-hand.
Penn State guard Teniya Page hurled in a deep 3-pointer with two seconds remaining, but Michigan was up, 32-20, at the half.
Barnes Arico’s squad took full control shortly after the break. Sophomore guard Akienreh Johnson and Church got more in the mix and were the top scorers of the second half. They finished the contest with 13 and 9 points, respectively.
The added contributions from Johnson and Church created more separation between the two teams, and the Wolverines held a 53-33 lead heading into the final frame.
Any hopes Penn State had for making a comeback were crushed as soon as the fourth quarter began, as Johnson and Munger racked up back-to-back 3-pointers. On its way to victory, Michigan managed to give its stars some rest during what was left of the game. That rest will be needed, as the Wolverines will face Nebraska tomorrow night in the third day of the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan ended the night with remarkable shooting figures. It shot nearly 50 percent from the field — including 60 percent in the second half — and this was a driving force. It helped Flaherty and Dunston finally get the Big Ten Tournament win they’ve been waiting for.
“I was so happy for our team to come away with a victory tonight,” Barnes Arico said, “especially for our seniors.”